Under the radar, Trump is pushing for full-scale Mideast war
A tightening alliance: President Donald Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office, March 20, 2018, in Washington. | Evan Vucci / AP

While the mass media focuses on the latest daily scandals emanating from the White House, a leader of the secular left in Iran says President Trump is stepping up plans for an attack on that country which could trigger a devastating regional war with horrific implications for world peace.

In an exclusive interview with People’s World this weekend, Navid Shomali, international secretary of Iran’s Tudeh Party, charged that John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, is assessing military options for an attack on Iran. The administration has already laid groundwork for a potential attack with false claims that Iran has violated terms of the nuclear arms reduction deal it struck with the U.S. and European countries. Israel has also said it has “proof” that Iran is violating the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Navid Shomali, international secretary of Iran’s Tudeh Party in Lisbon, Portugal, Dec. 3, 2016. | John Wojcik / PW

Bolton, Shomali noted, “was one of the chief architects of the invasion of Iraq during the presidency of George W. Bush.” During the past 20 years, he said, “Bolton has continually advocated military action against Iran with the aim of regime change.”

In his many appearances on national television, Bolton has called for an attack on Iran—up to and including a full-scale invasion—and for the installation of a new government there. More than once he has said that after toppling the Iranian government, the U.S. should invite surviving members of the American families held hostage in Iran during the Carter administration to the country so they could be part of a triumphal victory “celebration” at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Shomali had no kind words for new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been showered with accolades in the media. Even reporters on the liberal MSNBC network have been thanking Pompeo for, unlike Rex Tillerson, inviting them onto his plane as he travels around the world and for restoring what they call “protocol” to the State Department.

“Mike Pompeo also belongs to the reactionary, right-wing tea party faction and subscribes to the notion that military confrontation can be the preferred option in the advancing of U.S. interests,” Shomali said.

He charged that Pompeo’s trip to the Middle East, almost immediately after he was selected to head up the State Department, had the purpose of firming up an alliance involving Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Trump administration. That alliance has as its purpose, Shomali said, the scuttling of the nuclear arms reduction deal with Iran.

Shomali warned in the interview that the threat to peace involves more than just an attack on Iran. “It is no accident,” he said, “that the provocative missile attack on Syria happened right after Pompeo’s talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

The Tudeh Party leader warned that the Trump administration poses a graver threat to peace than any prior U.S. administration, “even more than during the darkest days of the Bush administration.”

When it comes to the fight for peace and the struggle for democracy and justice in his own country, Shomali said that the Iranian government too is pursuing dangerous policies with its interventions in other countries and that it is taking an economic path at home that not only thwarts human rights but hurts the wellbeing of the Iranian working class and its allies.

He says that an attack on Iran by the West, however, would give the government an excuse to levy even more repression against its own people.

Here is the full text of the exclusive People’s World interview with Navid Shomali, international secretary of Iran’s Tudeh Party:

PW: With Mike Pompeo, a former CIA chief, and John Bolton, a war hawk, taking leading positions in the Trump administration, do you see an increased danger of attacks on Iran?

Navid Shomali: With the addition of Bolton and Pompeo to Trump’s cabinet, a whole range of threats by the U.S. against our country are set to intensify. Bolton is a warmongering right-wing hawk who during the past two decades has continually advocated military action against Iran with the aim of implementing “regime change.” Bolton’s job as the national security advisor will be to assess and provide political and military options to the U.S. president. He was one of the chief architects of the attack on and invasion of Iraq during the presidency of George W. Bush and his neo-conservative administration. This unpopular—hated even—figure still defends that catastrophic crime in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people were sacrificed and which left Iraq a devastated country with a wide range of human, social, and economic problems to contend with—even fifteen years on from the so-called “shock and awe.”

Pompeo also belongs to the reactionary and right-wing tea party faction within the Republican Party and subscribes to the notion that military confrontation is often the preferable option for advancing of U.S. interests.

Both Bolton and Pompeo, along with Trump and the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia, believe in the cancellation of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, the intensifying of tensions, and the imposition of further sanctions.

Can you comment further on Pompeo’s recent talks with the prime minister of Israel and the leaders of Saudi Arabia?

The fact that Pompeo traveled to the Middle East on his first international assignment following his confirmation shows the clout and significance that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel enjoy as the U.S. partners in the region.  The new secretary of state is hostile to Iran and his views on the Middle East are very similar to those of Trump. Following Netanyahu’s claims regarding Israel’s access to several documents indicating Iran’s violation of its international obligations with regards to nuclear activities, Pompeo stated: “I think the files make very clear that, at the very least, the Iranian regime has continued to lie to their own people.”  Regarding the reaction of the U.S. administration to Israel’s claims, Pompeo said that the administration would “leave that to lawyers” and added that, “Ultimately it would be the president who has to verify this and make a decision about the matter.”

It seems that Pompeo’s movements and the comments he made were at least somewhat coordinated with the missile attack on targets in Hama and Aleppo, Syria on the evening of April 29 and the subsequent theatrical press conference at which the Israeli prime minister claimed to have new information about Iran’s violation of its obligations under the terms of JCPOA.  In Saudi Arabia, Pompeo claimed that the U.S. and their reactionary Arab kingdom allies in the Persian Gulf “have got a common challenge in Iran” and that “Iran destabilises this entire region.”

Have these visits specifically worsened relations with Iran, and if so, how?

The issue is that the new secretary of state, rather than being an expert and careful evaluator of all aspects of the situation in the Middle East so as to be able to give advice to the president about the best course of action, is parroting the same line as the president—thus proving that he has not been appointed to ensure an effective and helpful foreign policy that is tailored to and cognitive of, the volatile international situation.

The fact that only hours after Pompeo left Israel the provocative missile attacks on Syria took place speaks volumes. The U.S. administration is now completely controlled by warmongers and advocates of “regime change.” By the standards of so many other countries and observers, it bears resemblance to a war cabinet—a hawkish administration at the very least.

This is at a time that the president has effectively mortgaged out U.S. foreign policy to the warmongers in the Middle East in return for an arms deal with the Saudis and the support for himself by the pro-Israel lobby!

There has never been a time during the last two decades that we have witnessed such a dangerous pro-war group overseeing the U.S.’ relations with the world—not even during the darkest days of the George W. Bush era, the significance of which should be lost on no observer.

Right after Pompeo’s visit to Israel, the U.S. stepped up its bombing of Syria. How did this affect stability in the Middle East, and does it specifically have an impact on Iran?

Just hours before the attack, Pompeo was visiting Israel and Saudi Arabia—another warmonger country and advocate of the “New Middle East Plan”—and was quoted as having stated that the “United States is deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region, and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East. The United States is with Israel in this fight, and we strongly support Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself.”

The Tudeh Party believes that unless plans by the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East are stopped in their tracks, the Persian Gulf Region and the whole Middle East will be in danger of being engulfed by war and destruction.

There is every possibility that at this critical juncture the statements, policies, and actions of adventurist figures in the U.S. administration could directly or indirectly influence the start of another military adventure in the Middle East.  This would inevitably initiate the start of a wider, more encompassing and generalized war, which would be a disaster for the people there and would plunge the whole region headlong into terror and destruction.

It is our belief that all problems and disputes in the Middle East should be resolved through dialogue and negotiations in the context of the United Nations Charter and without imperialist interference.

Netanyahu went on TV to claim Iran was in violation of the nuclear deal. Is there a danger that he will really be believed in countries that now support the deal, European countries in particular?

In fact, many countries have already dismissed Netanyahu’s claims. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated on May 1 that it has no evidence of any attempt by Iran in recent years to achieve nuclear weapons capability. It is also reported that EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday, in Cairo, that “the JCPOA is not based on assumptions of good faith or trust; it is based on concrete commitments, verification mechanisms, and a very strict monitoring of facts, done by the IAEA.” She added, “It is the IAEA that needs to assess the details of the statement Prime Minister Netanyahu has made, and first and foremost get the IAEA’s assessment, because the IAEA is the only impartial, international organization that is in charge of monitoring Iran’s continued compliance with its nuclear commitments.”

Despite the obviously war-like intentions of the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel, what are the prospects of keeping France, Germany, and the UK in support of the deal?

Clearly, Germany, France, Britain, and much of the EU are against any tearing up of the JCPOA and will certainly oppose the Trump-Israel-Saudi axis in imposing more sanctions, as they are aware that Iran has fully complied with the terms of the deal. Besides this, these main economic players within Europe are keen to exploit lucrative Iranian markets and hence won’t be inclined to blindly follow the whims of Donald Trump. However, these countries are tied to U.S. policy in certain respects through NATO. In order to keep Germany, France, and Britain onside, the Islamic Republic of Iran has two options available.

First, the Islamic Republic’s “open-door” economic policy has so far been very attractive to the EU—therefore, the regime will try its utmost to further placate the EU countries with even more economic inducements to major businesses and corporations from the EU. This is aligned with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s neoliberal economic plan to grow Iran’s economy on the basis of further exploitation of Iran’s cheap and non-unionized labor and its natural resources by means of incentivizing EU capital investment with lucrative profit margins.

Second, the government may also opt to eliminate its offensive military capabilities in the region by quickly and fully withdrawing the Revolutionary Guards Corps units it has in neighboring countries and all of its military hardware from across the region. The Tudeh Party believes that this option, if pursued, may make it more difficult for the U.S.’ pro-war posturing and its advocacy of military intervention in Iran to gain traction and hence diminish the likelihood of a war.

This costly policy of deploying Iranian fighters in other countries has always been against the national interests of Iran and against the interests of the Iranian people. The policy has now become a major factor increasing the possibility of a direct military conflict with Israel, especially in relation to Syria and Lebanon.

This interference in affairs well away from Iran’s borders has no legitimacy whatsoever and remains as deeply unpopular at home as it is for the people of the territories it affects—it certainly has nothing to do with defending the interests, or security for that matter, of the Iranian people. Just as the Iranian people roundly reject any foreign interference or intervention in Iran, they also abhor Iran’s meddling in affairs elsewhere.

Can you talk about the risk of military conflict between Iran and Israel specifically? Is it less or more likely than before, and how does the Trump campaign against the JCPOA contribute to prompting open conflict between Israel and Iran?

Two factors are contributing to the increasing risk of a direct military conflict. On the one side, the are Netanyahu’s belligerent and warmongering politics. And, on the other, as explained above, the Islamic Republic’s reckless exposure of the country to an attack by Israel due to the presence of the Revolutionary Guards troops close to Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon. The initial theatre of military operations in any war might be in Syria or Lebanon, but it could ultimately lead to a direct attack on Iran itself by Israel and possibly the U.S. In spite of the Iranian government’s bluster, the Revolutionary Guards are no match for Israel’s powerful military machine—not to mention that of the U.S. Therefore, the Revolutionary Guards and its Shia militia bands may resort to other retaliatory actions that would massively escalate any conflict.

How does Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, fit into this picture? Or is he totally irrelevant by now?

Those grouped around Trump, including Kushner, are all dangerous. Like others, he has especially strong ties to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Kushner seems to be playing a key but behind-the-scenes role in developing a regional alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia (with his own unnaturally close personal relationship with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman) that would serve to maintain U.S. hegemonic control in the Middle East.

What about possible escalation of the war in Syria? What are the chances that the collaboration between the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia, and Israel will increase the intensity or scope of the war there?

The chances of precisely that happening have increased with the appointment of Pompeo and Bolton. It seems that Trump’s rise to power always had at its core the “grand plan” of bringing together some of the most reactionary right-wing individuals in U.S. politics and the currents they represent with like-minded partners internationally in developing an axis of frighteningly backwards and reactionary pro-Western regimes—all of whom believe in war as an effective measure in promoting their ideology and interests. Syria provides them with a useful theatre of war. This is why the Tudeh Party is advocating, in the interests of our country and people, that the Islamic Republic must quickly step back from and vacate this dangerous arena.

Propaganda offensive: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents material on Iranian nuclear weapons development during a press conference in Tel Aviv, April 30. Netanyahu claimed his government has obtained “half a ton” of secret Iranian documents proving the Tehran government once had a nuclear weapons program. | Sebastian Scheiner / AP

What about the progressive, left, democratic, and secular forces in Iran? What effect would war have on these forces within the country? And relatedly, although you obviously disagree with much of the program of the Islamic government, particularly on labor and human rights, why do you defend it against attacks from the West?

Firstly, it is important to clarify that we defend Iran’s sovereignty and the security of its people against an “attack from the West.” In fact, as I mentioned, we are highly critical of the Islamic Republic’s regional politics—especially its brand of “Islamic chauvinism” that is exposing our country to grave danger. We note that the ruling regime’s adventurous foreign policy and its militaristic bombast, along with the internal repression it imposes on our people, all have the common objective of perpetuating the rule of the theocratic dictatorship at any cost. In fact, any military confrontation with Israel and/or the U.S. would play into the hands of the regime with respect to its claim of fighting “arrogance and Zionism.” The majority of the people and progressive forces in Iran oppose this dangerous policy and recognize that as far as the theocratic regime is concerned, the central preoccupation is its own survival – no matter what this means for peace and security in Iran, the region or internationally – and the gasping of the people for the human and democratic rights in the country.

Therefore, it logically follows that in the event of a military confrontation with Israel or the U.S., the level of internal repression will be increased accordingly in order to silence any voices and protests against the ruling dictatorship, the calamitous and repugnant policies it has pursued regionally and internationally, and the disaster this has meant for the Iranian people.

Thus, a military engagement—war even—with the West would provide the regime with the pretext to wage a massive wave of attacks against the spiraling discontent across the nation—a people bravely protesting against their ever-deteriorating living conditions and desiring of freedom from an almost four-decade-old dictatorship.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.